Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Barnetts of Monmouth


(Photos will be added in March 2017 when I am back in New Zealand.)

When I first visited the UK, in 1987, one of the places that I was very keen to visit was Monmouth. Why? Not only was it the birthplace of Henry V, immortalised by Shakespeare and kept alive by my Bardophile English-teacher mother, but also of my mother’s slightly less illustrious Evans antecedants.

Monmouth is right on the border with England, but I was emphatically assured that it is in Wales. This was at the time that I was really launching into family history research. Need I remind you: pre-internet. I would scan the migraine-inducing microfiche at booked sessions at the local Mormon temple (Royal Oak) and send my findings to my sister Jane, who was on her OE in UK. She would then use that information to check out the archives at the regional Public Record Office. Very time consuming and expensive to order certificates. And everything done by snail mail. Even I have trouble imagining it, and it happened to me!

Research in the 60’s by my Auntie Thyra had confirmed my great grandparents Oliver and Sarah Evans nee Barnett were originally from Monmouth. They travelled to New Zealand in 1876 on the Inverness. They arrived 29 October 1876, docking in Napier after a voyage from London which had taken just over three months. The Inverness was one of the smaller ships to arrive that year, only 725 tons. With them were Bill and Charlie, their infant sons. The family then travelled by land to settle initially at Le Bons Bay on the Banks Peninsular, where Sarah’s brother James and paternal uncles Edwin and Henry were already established as early settlers. My grandfather John Evans was born in Christchurch (1890) sometime before the family moved to Rongomai, Wairarapa where the youngest member of the family, Maud, was born in 1893.

Based on this groundwork we discovered that both the Evans and Barnetts lived on The Kymin in the first half of the 19th century. Kymin Hill is a beautiful area just over the river Wye, to the east of Monmouth.  It is said that on a clear day eight counties can be seen from the summit. The settlement at the base of the hill is Dixton. Dixton appears in the censuses as Dixton Newton and Dixton Hadnock. They are the two original manors, on the west and east sides of the river respectively.  Just a little further east is the border with England and the ancient Forest of Dean.

When my mother Audrey was on her OE circa 1957, she had visited the area and unsuccessfully tried to find records of her grandparents’ marriage at the parish church. Of course, we realise now that as Non-conformists, in this case Baptists, their records were kept separately. There are further challenges locating records, as in this area the three counties of Monmouth, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire converge. Add to that, travel a mile or so and you are changing from England to Wales. Makes it hard to know which records to check. And most confusingly, our families’ local parish church of St Peters, although physically in Monmouth is part of the diocese of Hereford.

The church is ancient and attractive, on the banks of the Wye, and in Dixton Newton: the western side.  Our families would have had to cross the river to attend church on, and we know the river is prone to flooding: a fact attested by the brass markers in the church showing historic high water marks. In fact, a description of the church from 1851 comments on the inconvenient siting of the church (on an unrelated note, all services were in English) I believe there was a ferry crossing in this era. When I visited the church in 1989 it was being prepared for a wedding and looked lovely with the whitewashed walls, stained glass and bridal flowers.


My Great Grandmother Sarah Evans nee Barnett c 1920


My great grandmother Sarah, born 1849, was the eldest child of Betsy (nee Tomkins) and James Barnett. She was baptised in this church. Her father James was a woodsman and the 1851 census shows him living with his wife and child (Sarah) at Dixton Hadnock, in close to proximity to his brothers’ families. After Sarah, sons James and Edward followed, but by 1853, James Snr was dead, dying before the birth of Edward in December of that year.

Young Edward appears in the 1861 census for Dixton Newton living with his widowed mother and siblings, but by 1871 census the family has dispersed. I believe Sarah was living in as a servant, but haven’t confirmed the location. James had emigrated the previous year to New Zealand. No trace of Betsy (who may have died) or young Edward. Over the years, I have collected information on an Edward Barnett, but have never been able to verify the connection… until now. It was difficult to track him, because his entire Barnett family had died or emigrated, and Edward had no remaining links to Monmouth. While the Edward working as an assistant warder at Swansea Prison in 1891 gave his birthplace as Dixton, I wasn’t 100% certain this was my long lost great great uncle… until now!

What I had found was a man who was absent from the censuses of 1871 and 1881 and then shows up marrying in Plymouth (1882) and has children born in Ireland, Gibraltar, Swansea and Plymouth, before ending up in Greenwich as a customs watcher. These locations and occupations immediately suggested that he was probably formerly in the Navy. Both prison warder and customs watcher* jobs were commonly held by retired servicemen.

Obviously more research can be done, and I plan to spend time at the National Archive, Kew when I am dogsitting In South Ealing Easter 2017. But already I have proved the link through the modern wonders of DNA analysis. I recently submitted my saliva sample to Ancestry DNA and the results came back suggesting that a woman in Canada was my third cousin via Edward Barnett! We have made contact, and part of my reason for writing about the Barnetts today is to give her some background to what I know about the family. I am looking forward to learning her story of how her family ended up in Canada and what she knows of her great grandfather.



* Watcher [later re titled as Revenue Assistants and Revenue Constables] would tally cargo being unloaded from a ship or goods being transferred into /out of a bonded warehouse or the King's Warehouse and were on a weekly wage. [http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=757809.9]

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